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Level 16 (2018)
Dark Sky Films
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/30/2019
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/8/2019
It’s the summer of Avengers: Endgame, a film with a reported $350 million budget, which contains tons of visual effects, a cast of thousands, and locations which span the galaxy. This is a prime example of a movie which pulls out all of the stops and uses nearly every cinematic trick in the book. But, what about the movies at the other end of the spectrum? Films which have little-to-nothing at their disposal and are forced to make the most out of a very small amount of resources. Films like this must rely on wits and skill to overcome their shortfalls. Level 16 is a prime example of making minimalism work.
The time is an indeterminate future in which the air is poisoned. A group of teenaged girls live in a special school where they learn the virtues of femininity and are taught that cleanliness must come first. The girls are told that as they age and master their training, once they reach Level 16, they will get to go live with a “sponsor”. Vivien (Katie Douglas) is one of the most strong-willed girls in the facility. A natural leader, Vivien never questions the teachings of Miss Brixil (Sara Canning), and obediently goes through her day, doing her chores, washing, and taking her vitamins at night. However, Sophia (Celina Martin) has some disturbing information about the purpose of this facility and she becomes determined to help Vivien see the light.
If you are looking for a textbook example of making something out of nothing, then look no further than Level 16. I doubt that the film is actually as low-budget as it appears to be, but all we get is a location which looks like an abandoned school and a handful of actors…and that’s it. But Writer/Director Danishka Esterhazy is able to take this and create an intriguing movie. The behind-the-scenes featurette included on this Blu-ray Disc didn’t give a lot of information about the production, but one can assume that the location scout found this building, which is essentially just one hallway, and the movie took off from there. There are no dazzling visual effects, no over-the-top stunts, just a story which gives us just enough in each scene to keep us watching.
To be fair, the story in Level 16 is not very original. We’ve seen it before, but if I were to name the films which “inspired” Level 16 then you would be able to figure out the twist. And, once the twist is revealed, the level of tension drops somewhat, and the story turns from “what’s going on?” to “what are they doing?”. So, while the movie can’t keep the viewer on the edge of their seat the entire time, the movie still remains watchable thanks largely in part to the talented cast. Katie Douglas (who looks like a lot of other actresses combined) carries the film, offering a dazzling combination of strength and vulnerability. She is the primary focus here and it’s easy to take the journey with her. The other girls are good as well, as they are called upon to mix fear and doubt. The only weak link here is the Miss Brixil character – Sara Canning has the proper look of severity, but the character comes across as cliched.
One of my favorite things is to get a movie about which I know nothing, only to discover a hidden gem. No, Level 16 is not perfect, far from it, but, as stated above, it is a great example of a film which does a lot with limited resources. As someone who watches way too many low-budget movies which go nowhere, I can state that it was refreshing to see filmmakers take what they had on hand and run with it. A dramatic-thriller with touches of sci-fi, Level 16 is certainly worth a look.
Level 16 could easily have 15 prequels on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Dark Sky Films. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 39 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good, and the image is never overly dark or bright (despite the overall monochromatic look of the film – a look which makes Miss Brixil’s red lips really stand out). The depth works well, as does the level of detail. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.2 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a slow-burn thriller, we don’t get an abundance of dynamic audio effects. However, there are several key moments where characters are listening for sounds, and the mix makes nice use of placing these sounds in the various channels.
The Level 16 Blu-ray Disc contains a small assortment of extra features. “Making Of” (5 minutes) offers comments from the cast (who aren’t identified), who talk about the story and themes. We also get a small amount of on-set footage and a glossing over of the film’s look. We next get a series of separate INTERVIEWS with actors Katie Douglas, Celina Martin, Sara Canning, Peter Outerbridge, Writer/Director Danishka Esterhazy, Production Designer Diana Magnus, Costume Designer Jennifer Stroud, Producer Judy Holm, and Executive Producer James Weyman. The final extra is a TRAILER for the film.
Review Copyright 2019 by Mike Long